Rochester Heath Care Leaders to Discuss Rising Costs

April 19, 2007

The University of Rochester Medical Center, Excellus BlueCross BlueShield, and the Greater Rochester Health Foundation are convening a day-long symposium to discuss ways to address the rising cost of health care. The meeting, which will involve local physicians, business leaders, insurers, community leaders, government officials, and health system administrators, will examine the phenomenon of “unwarranted variation.”

“As a society, we spend a tremendous amount of our resources on medical care, but that investment is not necessary reflected in improved health outcomes,” said David Guzick, M.D., Ph.D., the dean of the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.  “The purpose of this meeting is to bring together the stakeholders from all sectors of the health care delivery system to begin to understand and address the impact of unwarranted variation on the cost and quality of health care in our community.”

Unwarranted variation in the use of medical care is discrepancies that can’t be explained by demographics or disease rates and result in either the overuse or under use of services such as provider visits, immunizations, hospitalizations, drug treatments, or surgical procedures. The term was coined by researchers at Dartmouth Medical School – one of whom will participate in the Rochester meeting – who found that such variations are significant contributors to rising health care costs.

“We are coming together because we share a growing concern about how our community will continue to provide and pay for the health care that it wants and needs,” said David Klein, president and chief executive officer for Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “As health care continues to grow more expensive it becomes increasingly unaffordable and inaccessible to more people. The greatest health care delivery system in the world holds no value to someone who can’t afford access to its services.”    

Many conditions can be treated in more than one medically valid way – often a choice between a medical and a surgical approach.  Differences in the preferences of individual physicians and patients, in established practices and local medical opinion, and in the composition of the local health care system can often lead to discrepancies across communities in such things as surgical vs. medical treatment for back pain, surgical vs. behavioral treatment of obesity, and prescription rates for brand-name vs. generic drugs.  These factors can also lead to variation in the management of chronic conditions such as diabetes and, when taken cumulatively, these decisions ultimately have a significant impact on the cost and quality of care. 

The symposium – which is supported by a grant from the Greater Rochester Health Foundation – will examine variations in care in the Rochester region in three areas: low back pain, diabetes, and end of life care.  The meeting will also explore ways to manage and potentially eliminate variations through the application of communitywide efforts to improve performance, common practices, and systems. 

The symposium was held on Thursday, April 19 from 12:00 to 5:30 PM at the Hyatt Regency in Rochester

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Mark Michaud
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